It’s officially winter in Florida, when thoughts turn to pink flamingos … and Everglades National Park. For the next 90 days or so, it’s prime time to visit this unique wilderness along the tip of Florida’s peninsula. “There are no other Everglades in the world,” wrote Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, advocate for the creation of the park, which was established in 1947.
Things have changed a lot in the past forty years of my visits to Everglades National Park. Birds we once saw in multitude in the 1960s – the most colorful being roseate spoonbills, glossy ibis, and flamingos – dwindled from significant flocks to handfuls of individuals. Saltwater has crept further north into the river of grass as the channelization of natural rainwater flow has spirited it away from nourishing the Everglades to instead feed the hungry agricultural concerns around Lake Okeechobee and the burgeoning population along Florida’s southeastern coast. Invasive species are affecting the ecosystem, most notably for hikers, pythons and anacondas let loose by people who no longer want them as pets. Last I visited, the rangers no longer recommend backcountry camping for hikers. Hurricane Wilma ruined the lodge and cabins at Flamingo, which are no longer available for travelers.
You can still camp, of course, at Flamingo and Long Pine Key. Mosquitoes are less of a hassle this time of year, and there are plenty of day hikes along the length of the Main Park Road. I’ll be sharing a handful over the next couple of months. First on deck: the Snake Bight and Rowdy Bend trails, which can be hiked as a loop or in part as an out-and-back. Enjoy!